This article ran in the Official Publication of the Buddhist Churches of America “Wheel of Dharma” December 2007 Newsletter by President Dr. Gordon Bermant.
The Visalia Buddhist Church celebrated its centennial on Nov. 3 and 4 of this year. Rev- erend Jo-Ren MacDonald, Centennial chairperson Ellen Tanimoto, Temple President Jack Mori, and dozens of volunteers had worked tirelessly for months to ensure a graceful and meaningful event for the weekend. They succeeded beautifully.
There were many aspects of the weekend’s services and celebrations that I would enjoy sharing with you. But there is one aspect that was interesting to me at the time and became much more so just a couple of days ago. I will explain what I mean.
Just last week a dear friend of mine was told by her physician that she had but a few months left to live. She and her husband have lived in their community for many years and have many friends. Friends and family will do all that they can to provide the right kinds of support. Yet at such times, the person who is ill, and his or her spouse, living by themselves, are apt to feel quite alone.
Imagine that my friends, or yours, are without close friends or nearby family when they receive this sad prognosis. They are alone in their home now. They are not traditional churchgoers either, of any denomination, yet at this time of sadness they wish to reach out for spiritual support. Imag- ine also, please, that this couple is not Japanese- American. How might these people find what they seek?
Perhaps, just by accident, they will drive by a church building that seems welcoming: it is well- kept, open, and inviting, with features that are bright and unpretentious. Imagine, for example, that the building’s light-colored stucco walls are trimmed carefully in a wonderful shade of purple paint! The trim informs passers-by that this is a welcoming place for strangers to the community and church members. Perhaps my friends, or yours, would be encouraged to take the next step. They might stop long enough to read the infor- mation on the sign in front of the building, copying the phone number and web address to use when they return home. (Can you hear the couple speaking to each other? “Buddhist Church? We don’t know anything about Bud- dhism. But this just seems like a friendly place. What do we have to lose by calling?”)
The Visalia Buddhist Church, on Center Street in downtown Visalia, has such wonderful purple trim on its façade. Reverend MacDonald told me that she and some church members considered several colors before choosing that particular shade of purple. The paint was still drying on the weekend of the Centennial. What an auspicious way to begin the second century of Jodo Shinshu in Visalia!
If my friends, or yours, use the internet, they will be further encouraged by the bright and informative appearance of www.visaliabuddhist- temple.org. (Like a number of our sanghas, the transition from “church” to “temple” is underway in Visalia.) And if they should be encouraged enough to pick up the telephone to speak with Reverend MacDonald, they will have their first experience of the intelligent compassion that shines from those who experience Amida Buddha through the teachings of Shinran Shonin.
I would like to believe that one day every BCA temple will offer a genuinely open heart and mind to all who come to the door, no matter their back- ground, needs, or aspirations. I have heard on occasion that this temple or that one is uninterest- ed in reaching beyond its traditional membership to allow newcomers to experience the wisdom and compassion of the Nembutsu teaching. If true, how sad.
It has been said that the temples of BCA are an organiza- tion in transition. Perhaps a healthy transition can benefit from the example of the church with the purple trim. I like to think, as well, of a motto from a brilliant Buddhist: “Turn toward everything.”